Queen Victoria's Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe

Queen Victoria's Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe

A captivating exploration of the role in which Queen Victoria exerted most international power and influence: as a matchmaking grandmother.By the 1890s, Queen Victoria had over thirty grandchildren, and to maintain and increase British royal power she was determined to maneuver them into a series of dynastic marriages with the royal houses of Europe.Yet for all their appar...

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Title:Queen Victoria's Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe
Author:Deborah Cadbury
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Queen Victoria's Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe Reviews

  • Susan

    Prince Albert and Queen Victoria saw dynastic marriages between their children and European royalty as a safeguard against war, and as a way of creating a balance of power, in Europe, as well as spreading British values across the continent. With Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria was determined to make his vision come true and, with forty two grandchildren, the ‘cousinhood’ formed a unique club at the very top of European society. This book looks at Queen Victoria’s desire to be involved in

    Prince Albert and Queen Victoria saw dynastic marriages between their children and European royalty as a safeguard against war, and as a way of creating a balance of power, in Europe, as well as spreading British values across the continent. With Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria was determined to make his vision come true and, with forty two grandchildren, the ‘cousinhood’ formed a unique club at the very top of European society. This book looks at Queen Victoria’s desire to be involved in matchmaking marriages for her grandchildren and looks, in greater depth, at seven of her grandchildren who were elevated to the throne at a crucial time in Europe’s history. These include Kaiser Wilhelm (her oldest, and most troublesome, grandson), Sophie, Queen of Greece, George V, Princess Maud, Queen of Norway, Alix, Empress of Russia, Marie ‘Missy’ Queen of Romania and Victoria Eugenie or ‘Ena’, Queen of Spain.

    There is no doubt that Queen Victoria felt that, through her grandchildren, she could shape the political landscape of Europe. Although much of this book was familiar to me, such as Victoria’s desperate attempts to stop the marriage of Nicholas and Alexandra, Deborah Cadbury does include many snippets from personal letters from Queen Victoria and these make fascinating reading – especially her long correspondence with her eldest daughter, and mother of the Kaiser, Vicky. She does sometimes quote from other research , or authors, and I was not impressed by her taking one small piece of information from Patricia Cornwall; whose odd ranting about Jack the Ripper leads to any research she comes across being biased to concur with her bizarre theories and so is suspect in my eyes... That aside, the majority of the research comes from sources which are obviously directly from Victoria herself and makes the book, which could be all too familiar, come alive.

    Queen Victoria comes across as a figure who is feared, and respected, in her family; the central character in a spider web which spreads across Europe. Her letters are manipulative, she is often insensitive and she is extremely demanding. Nor is she always successful in her attempts and some of the most interesting parts of this book deal with her failed attempts to create a marriage; such as her wishes to marry Prince Albert ‘Eddy’ to her beloved ‘Alicky,’ the later Empress Alexandra. However, even here, you can see how perceptive Victoria was; she thought Alicky’s ‘gauche’ qualities, such as her shyness and her dislike of social occasions, would be seen in England as a positive and make her liked by the press, and public, whereas they would be failings in the Russian Court. She correctly sensed danger for her favourite grand-daughter in Russia, and was also well aware of the dangers that being royal meant. Her ability to deal with Kaiser Wilhelm was not passed on by her son, who disliked the Kaiser, and, by her death, Europe was changing. Anarchy, revolution and war were in the air and Europe was on the brink of danger.

    Overall, this is a very interesting read. The author really makes the time come alive and there are some very moving stories in this book, such as Prince Eddy’s attempts to find a bride and the fluctuating fortunes of Princess May of Teck; plus a lot of detail about other members of the royal family, as well as those featured. For anyone with an interest in British history, this is an enjoyable, well written, account of Queen Victoria’s attempts to manipulate her children’s, and grandchildren’s, marriages and to influence politics in Europe with mixed success. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  • Jill Meyer

    Queen Victoria - Britain's second-longest reigning monarch - died on January 22, 1901. She'd been a widow since December, 1861 and had worn widows-weeds ever since, mourning her beloved husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Gotha. They had had nine children. At the time of her death, Victoria had 20 some-odd grandchildren. It was these children and grandchildren whose marriages with other members of European royalty Victoria plotted as almost her legacy. She and Prince Albert had seen their children as

    Queen Victoria - Britain's second-longest reigning monarch - died on January 22, 1901. She'd been a widow since December, 1861 and had worn widows-weeds ever since, mourning her beloved husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Gotha. They had had nine children. At the time of her death, Victoria had 20 some-odd grandchildren. It was these children and grandchildren whose marriages with other members of European royalty Victoria plotted as almost her legacy. She and Prince Albert had seen their children as marrying into the other (Protestant) royal houses and bringing along their shared sense of liberal rule. In some marriages they succeeded, in others they failed. Victoria's grandchildren - often first cousins - were then married off to each other. Historian Deborah Cadbury explains Victoria's chess board and chess pieces in her new book, "Queen Victoria's Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe".

    Cadbury does an excellent job in picking several children and grandchildren to follow through the diplomatic and personal paths to love and marriage. Some paths were more difficult than others and some marriages turned out better than others. But that is the way it is in most families, isn't it? Victoria, though, was playing for the future of Europe and personal happiness might not have always taken first place in her consideration of which cousin would go with which cousin. Victoria was marrying off first and second cousins to each other and wasn't concerned - or knowledgeable - about the genetic dangers of kissing cousins going further than kissing.

    A side concern of Victoria's was the growing acts of anarchist terrorism in Europe. Russia, in particular, was the scene of several horrific political assassinations and Victoria worried about her favorite granddaughter, Alix of Hesse (daughter of her late daughter, Alice) and her choice of Nicholas of Russia as her husband. She also oversaw the marriage of her heir Bertie's first son (and then second son when the first died at a young age) to May of Teck. Now, that was a long, double courtship!

    Deborah Cadbury's book is very readable. She's an easy writer and doesn't waste a sentence. The reason I mention that is because I had started her previous book, "Princes at War", but didn't finish it. I may go back and try again. In any case, she does a great job laying out the complicated chessboard of British royal marriages.

  • Suzannah

    I can't remember the last time I had so much fun reading a nonfiction book (most of the history I read these days is at a more academic level than this book).

    This book was absolutely gripping. Though written for a popular audience, the author shows impressive research on her subject, drawing from unpublished royal archives. And it's extremely well written. Cadbury understands the art of telling history with the verve and craft of a good novelist. Knowing that half these people will come to stic

    I can't remember the last time I had so much fun reading a nonfiction book (most of the history I read these days is at a more academic level than this book).

    This book was absolutely gripping. Though written for a popular audience, the author shows impressive research on her subject, drawing from unpublished royal archives. And it's extremely well written. Cadbury understands the art of telling history with the verve and craft of a good novelist. Knowing that half these people will come to sticky ends but constantly kept guessing as to how, you'll find it hard to put down.

    Basically, this is the story of the planned, unplanned, or abortive matrimonial alliances made by Queen Victoria's grandchildren between the 1870s and 1890s among the royal houses of Europe. As young newlyweds, Victoria and Albert had formed a vision to bring peace and representative parliamentarian government to Europe. Albert himself prepared his smart and dutiful eldest daughter Vicky for this task, only to die before seeing the fruits of his labour. I knew that Vicky's son would become the infamous Kaiser Wilhelm II of the first World War. I didn't know that after Albert's death, Victoria exerted all her considerable power and influence over her children, grandchildren, and in-laws to bring about his dream of a peaceful Europe. I knew that the plan failed, but I didn't know how.

    This book is the story of what happened, and it's marvellous. Forbidden love, rumours, deaths, scandals, shocking revelations - admittedly, this book treads the fine line that divides history from soap opera. Nevertheless, it's impossible not to conclude that the marriages of Victoria's children and grandchildren had a profound effect on European politics in the lead up to WWI.

    The book ends with an account of how the gilded edifice of European empire came tumbling down in war. Victoria and Albert dreamed of spreading constitutional monarchy across Europe in order to achieve world peace, yet when Charles of Denmark and his wife Maud (one of Victoria's granddaughters) were invited to become the first monarchs of independent Norway in 1905, and refused their family's urging to pounce on the throne long enough to hold a plebiscite to ensure they were actually wanted, English nobles scoffed that it was "too horrible for an English princess to sit upon a Revolutionary Throne." In the end, the lust for total power proved too strong, even for the gentle Tsar Nicholas II who had witnessed the violent despair of his people under Romanov autocracy. Judgement could not be escaped. But why was it that people like Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsarina Alexandra became blinded to the point of insanity?

    Recommended for anyone who likes reading about doomed love affairs, fancy weddings, and bloodshed.

  • Jess

    I find Deborah Cadbury to be such a readable writer, that even reading about some of the more well trod territory was really enjoyable. I'd forgotten some of the proposed matches in her and she actually made me interested in Eddy, who I'd almost skimmed past frankly, because he ended up dead so early. It's striking to think how differently world history would have played out if, for instance, he'd lived and Alix of Hesse had agreed to marry him. Would we still be dealing with hemophilia in the B

    I find Deborah Cadbury to be such a readable writer, that even reading about some of the more well trod territory was really enjoyable. I'd forgotten some of the proposed matches in her and she actually made me interested in Eddy, who I'd almost skimmed past frankly, because he ended up dead so early. It's striking to think how differently world history would have played out if, for instance, he'd lived and Alix of Hesse had agreed to marry him. Would we still be dealing with hemophilia in the British royal family? It's interesting to think about.

    (I also feel so much worse for Marie of Romania now and I definitely need to find a biography of her finally.)

  • Nicole Burrell

    I remember my mom telling me that, when she was a teenager, her mom [aka my grandma] would approach lifeguards on the beach and brazenly introduce them to her daughters. At the time, I didn’t think anyone could top that level of bold matchmaking. Then I read “Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking” by Deborah Cadbury. Let’s just say Queen V could give my grandma a run for her money.

    “Matchmaking” chronicles the efforts of Queen Victoria to orchestrate the marriages of her children and grandchildren. At its

    I remember my mom telling me that, when she was a teenager, her mom [aka my grandma] would approach lifeguards on the beach and brazenly introduce them to her daughters. At the time, I didn’t think anyone could top that level of bold matchmaking. Then I read “Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking” by Deborah Cadbury. Let’s just say Queen V could give my grandma a run for her money.

    “Matchmaking” chronicles the efforts of Queen Victoria to orchestrate the marriages of her children and grandchildren. At its root was a desire to honor the vision of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, to bring unity in Europe through a network of marriages that would tie different countries and empires to each other. However noble the plan was, as the years passed and Queen Victoria found herself a widow destined to execute the plan on her own, things got more and more complicated...even messy.

    This book succeeds in showing the overarching dynamics playing out in Europe at this time, as well as the intimate inner workings of a family that spread itself from England to Germany, Greece, Russia and numerous other countries. Each story, each individual member of the family, is more fascinating than the last. Seeing their love stories play out is more gripping still.

    Cadbury tells a story that I knew very little of. So many of the names that star in this book were mere footnotes in my knowledge of history until I read this book. Within a few chapters, I found myself anxious to learn the fates of the colorful characters that made up one of the most intriguing families you will ever encounter. And I must admit, in spite of her shocking frankness and shameless interference, I was rooting for Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking to win out every time. Because you always have to root for grandma.

    *I have been provided with an advanced copy of this book for review by Public Affairs*

  • Jill Hutchinson

    This book is a fairly interesting read but it didn't particularly appeal to me. Maybe I have read too much about Queen Victoria and there was really nothing new.

    She was the "Grandmother of Europe" and intended to put her children and grandchildren on as many thrones as possible. She succeeded in seven instances....Russia, Germany, Greece, Romania, Norway, Spain, and of course, Great Britain......with not a love match in sight. It was inbreeding gone wild and the gene of hemophilia, passed throu

    This book is a fairly interesting read but it didn't particularly appeal to me. Maybe I have read too much about Queen Victoria and there was really nothing new.

    She was the "Grandmother of Europe" and intended to put her children and grandchildren on as many thrones as possible. She succeeded in seven instances....Russia, Germany, Greece, Romania, Norway, Spain, and of course, Great Britain......with not a love match in sight. It was inbreeding gone wild and the gene of hemophilia, passed through the Queen, affected several of her descendants, including one of her own sons. The right marriages were political in nature and the Queen knew how to manipulate her kin onto the right throne. However, it was at the wrong time as WWI loomed and changed the environment of Europe and the world forever. Only the UK, Norway, and Spain retain any form of monarchy in modern times.

    There were many editing errors in this book, usually concerning dates which often appeared as 1987, 1991, etc. instead of 1887, 1891, etc. This became irritating after the third or fourth time it appeared.

    If you are new to the royal marriages during Queen Victoria's reign, this book provide a good overview....otherwise, meh.

  • Jeanette

    This is better than 3 stars- 3.5 star to be fair. Although I'm not quite sure that this is titled correctly or at least as accurately as it could have been titled. Because this is more about Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren (and their own choices and departures) just as much as being about the matchmaking tendency that they experienced with their elders and especially with their Matriarch Queen Grandmother. With a huge side category of the position and oversee that Queen Victoria and

    This is better than 3 stars- 3.5 star to be fair. Although I'm not quite sure that this is titled correctly or at least as accurately as it could have been titled. Because this is more about Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren (and their own choices and departures) just as much as being about the matchmaking tendency that they experienced with their elders and especially with their Matriarch Queen Grandmother. With a huge side category of the position and oversee that Queen Victoria and Albert had, that is TRUE. A rather "master plan" to connect European nations in ally/ peace functions that they spoke of and planned for their own 9. But I don't feel like she actually had dibs on picking much in exact dictated matches as this title presupposes she did. Or leads you to believe that she did for the ones which did develop. Her disapproval was vast and known- but making a match a "sure thing" was really not how she operated. Quite differently than in much earlier centuries, when it was a given, the monarch decided, and you just obeyed by duty and oath to marry who was chosen for you.

    But it was 5 star in telling the recorded and unrecorded (hearsay of witness and family) positions (both physical and mental)of many of her nearly 3 dozen grandchildren and their possible mates. And that was shocking, IMHO. As many seem to have great variance in mental/emotional abilities, blood related clotting disease of hemophilia or being a carrier for such (although they downplayed this immensely), or in some way also having far from infrequent intersect with anarchists or terrorists during the travel and "meet" process. Physical safety and personal marriage choice (such a small group of choices by royal blood requirement being available) being truly negative particulars, especially for the female offspring. The males seem to have more choices- more European princesses available at young ages of easier compliance?

    Regardless, this is a GREAT window into Queen Victoria as a person. Her dislike for children and the more usual emotional distance from the majority of her own offspring, with just a few exceptions. She had great dislikes, and basically from the get-go saw all children, grand-children as secondary to her own roles and especially her own marriage. Before Allbert's early death, she saw the time he spent with the children as "not hers". I think it is ironic that she was considered the great Mother Monarch with her bonnet, instead of a crown.

    So extremely sad that she foresaw the dangers of Russia and especially of her female children or grandchildren choosing Russian consorts. And the tale of what happened to her own Sergei, she never forgot that. What a HORRID death!

    Actually I appreciated the pages of historical photos and especially all the anarchist attempts drawings of the 1880's and 1890's as much as I was embedded in Victoria's opinions. So many bombs and so many terrorist shots. It's nothing new.

    Just a last thought- I hated all the nicknames that they evolved. You would think with all the choices that they would come up with more than a few different names in each generation.

    And the most shocking observation. It was that Nicholas (who became Tsar of Russia) and George (Vicky's second son who became King of England) looked SO MUCH ALIKE. They looked like twins. If you saw them side by side in those pictures, I doubt unless they opened their mouths and spoke you could tell them apart. Same beards and facial hair, same hairstyle, same built/weight/height. So many cousins! And so many sick and early deaths!

  • Christine

    The soap opera that was the royal family at the turn of the 19th century will fascinate devoted Anglophiles. Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren were on the thrones or heirs to the thrones of most of the European countries - and this was no accident! Cadbury reveals the scheming grandmother behind many royal marriages and the effects those marriages had on European and world politics. The long-reigning queen of England firmly believed that a network of marriage alliances by the "royal mo

    The soap opera that was the royal family at the turn of the 19th century will fascinate devoted Anglophiles. Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren were on the thrones or heirs to the thrones of most of the European countries - and this was no accident! Cadbury reveals the scheming grandmother behind many royal marriages and the effects those marriages had on European and world politics. The long-reigning queen of England firmly believed that a network of marriage alliances by the "royal mob" would keep the peace over most of the world. In the end, it proved to be a narrow vision as these royal couples had direct involvement with the start of WWI and the Bolshevik revolution.

    While it can be hard to keep all the Victorias and Alberts straight and follow the convoluted royal lineage, Cadbury does an admirable job of succinctly presenting her case using available historical documents.

  • Nate

    2.5 stars

    Queen Victoria's Matchmaking is supposed to describe the attempts of Queen Victoria to find partners for her grandchildren in order to ensure their happiness and/or fix them up in a way that augments their stability and power. What it actually chronicles is the relationships between the future crowned heads of Europe and Queen Victoria's grandchildren, with Victoria being mentioned regularly but having little actual influence over their choices. The majority of relationships talked abou

    2.5 stars

    Queen Victoria's Matchmaking is supposed to describe the attempts of Queen Victoria to find partners for her grandchildren in order to ensure their happiness and/or fix them up in a way that augments their stability and power. What it actually chronicles is the relationships between the future crowned heads of Europe and Queen Victoria's grandchildren, with Victoria being mentioned regularly but having little actual influence over their choices. The majority of relationships talked about in this book, including Marie and Ferdinand of Romania, Ena and Alfonso of Spain, and Eddy and Helene, had little to do with Queen Victoria except tangentially as a doting grandmother. The actual matches she did make, such as Victoria Melita and Ernest of Hesse, were barely mentioned except in he space of a few pages chronicling them getting together, unlike other relationships that got analysed till death of the participants. The relationships that got explored after the marriage, like Emperor Nicholas and Alexandra, had nothing to do with Queen Victoria. For some of them, she wasn't even alive from the get go (Ena and Alfonso). The book is an obvious example of marketing that doesn't match the interior. This book was more about the relationships that the grandchildren had rather than about the setting up of them by Queen Victoria and how that affected their marriage. The book also tried to delve into some heavy politics on its many tangents, particularly as done by the Kaiser, which also doesn't fit in the scope of this book and felt like a case of trying to seem ultra-important, which it didn't need to do. It would have been fine as a book that simply focused on the personal romantic relationships of her grandchildren without needing to dive into the muddy, irrelevant waters of pre-World War I politics in order to make it important. The main instance of this was the chapter titled "Ena and Alfonso," which didn't even mention either of them until 2/3 of the way through the chapter and missed mentioning on the other granddaughters of Queen Victoria that caught his eye. Nothing was wrong with the research, premise, or writing of this book, the book's problems were all caused by the author's not knowing what type of book to write or what to focus on.

    A digital copy of this book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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